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Priest v. United States

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 15, 2019

TRACI J. PRIEST
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

          Present Honorable CHRISTINA A. SNYDER JUDGE

          CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

         Proceedings: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt.[ 43 ], filed on May 13, 2019)

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On July 12, 2016, plaintiff Traci J. Priest (“Priest”) filed this action against defendant United States of America (the “United States”). Dkt. 1. On February 9, 2018, plaintiff filed the operative Second Amended Complaint. Dkt. 23 (“SAC”).[1]Plaintiff asserts claims for negligence stemming from personal injuries that she allegedly suffered when she disembarked from a bus parked in the parking lot of the Grassy Hollow Park and Visitor Center. See generally id.

         Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment on May 13, 2019, along with supporting declarations and a statement of uncontroverted facts. Dkt. 43 (“Mot.”); dkt. 43-3 (“SUF”). Plaintiff filed an opposition brief on June 24, 2019, along with a statement of disputed and undisputed facts and evidentiary objections. Dkt. 49-2 (“Opp'n”); dkt. 49-3 (“SDF”). Defendant filed a reply on July 1, 2019. Dkt. 50 (“Reply”).

         The Court held a hearing on July 15, 2019. Counsel for plaintiff failed to appear. Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not meaningfully disputed and are set forth for purposes of background. Unless otherwise noted, the Court references only facts that are uncontroverted and as to which evidentiary objections have been overruled.

         Grassy Hollow is a visitor center in the Angeles National Forest, located west of the town of Wrightwood, California, which is owned by defendant. SUF ¶ 1. Volunteers from the community offer a program for local schools at the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center (the “School Program”). Id. ¶ 2. The program has been in existence since 1999, and students who come to Grassy Hollow to participate in the School Program participate in three educational nature activities: a nature hike, a “Hug-a-Tree” presentation, and a discussion on local animal life. Id. ¶¶ 2, 4. After completing all three activities, students generally picnic in a designated area. Id. ¶ 9. The School Program is not advertised, and neither the School Program coordinator nor any of the other volunteers invite specific districts, schools, teachers, or individuals to participate in the program. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Instead, schools sign up to participate in the program by contacting a volunteer who is designated as the School Program coordinator. Id. ¶ 10. There is no fee to participate in the School Program, nor is there a fee to enter the Angeles National Forest or the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center when participating in the School Program. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. School Program participants generally arrive at Grassy Hollow by bus. Id. ¶ 15.

         On June 7, 2013, plaintiff fell into a small hole-estimated to be about two to three inches in diameter-as she disembarked from the bus while serving as a chaperone for the Morgan Kincaid Preparatory School's trip to Grassy Hollow as part of the School Program. Id. ¶¶ 18, 23; SDF ¶ 101; Dkt. 49-1, Ex. 1, Deposition of Traci Priest I (“Priest Depo. I”) at 32:07-32:23. Plaintiff learned about the trip through a flyer provided by the school. SUF ¶ 19. Plaintiff knew the School Program involved hiking, nature study, and picnicking. Id. ¶ 20.[2] She did not pay a fee to enter the Angeles National Forest or the Visitor Center. Id. ¶ 21.

         Plaintiff arrived at Grassy Hollow by bus. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff contends, and defendant does not dispute, that the bus was late in arriving at Grassy Hollow, and when the bus arrived, the volunteers told the bus driver to park along the road and to hurry up. SDF ¶ 100. Plaintiff was the last person to disembark from the bus, and when she stepped off the bus, she stepped into a small hole in the dirt and fell down. SUF ¶¶ 23-24. She reports that she did not observe the ground below her before exiting the bus, and no one who disembarked from the bus before plaintiff stepped in a hole or said anything to plaintiff about a hole. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that she sustained “serious injuries” to her foot and ankle when she fell, see SAC ¶ 14, but there is no information in the evidentiary record currently before the Court on the nature or extent of plaintiff's injury.

         Linda Dailey, a volunteer who has worked at Grassy Hollow since 2000, could not testify that regular inspections of the parking spaces and dirt at such spaces took place. Id. ¶ 111; Dkt. 43-1, Declaration of Linda Dailey (“Dailey Decl.”) ¶ 1. Instead, she testified that volunteers “always eyeball” decks and sidewalks in areas like that. SDF ¶ 111. She further testified that the volunteers were supposed to ensure that, when students and chaperones step off the bus, they step onto asphalt, but the volunteers greeting the busses were not required to warn those disembarking from the busses to watch their step. Id. ¶¶ 105, 110. Plaintiff asserts, and defendant does not appear to contest, that eighty percent of the parking spot where her bus parked abutted dirt. Id. ¶ 106.

         Dailey testified that, during her time volunteering at Grassy Hollow, she has never noticed nor been alerted to holes or other potentially hazardous conditions in the parking area. SUF ¶ 16.[3] To date, there are no records of School Program participants suffering a fall when they exited the bus. Id. ¶ 17.

         III. ...


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